Warner voters will discuss land and rail trail at town meeting

This photograph of the town-owned land at 136 E. Main Street, taken by Tim Blagden, president of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail this past winter. Blagden said it indicates how much of the property  can sometimes be flooded. (Courtesy.)

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Town residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinions concerning the future of a 3.13-acre town-owned lot, now that the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail have expressed an interest in it.

The town originally purchased the property at 136 East Main Street in 2016 for $75,000 as a potential site for a new fire department stationhouse. The site was later rejected for several reasons, including the fact that it’s vulnerable to seasonal flooding, said Jim Bingham, the town’s administrator. “It borders on the Warner River and a significant amount of that land is within the flood plain. That area’s been flooded more than once, and some of that has been recently.”

‘Do we drop the (land) price significantly for the rail trail people to buy it? Or do we give it to them? Or do we hold to it and give them an easement?”

Selectman Kinberley Edelmann

 

At the annual town meeting the following year, residents gave the selectboard clear directions about the property, according to Kimberley Edelmann, the board’s chair. “The instructions were, get our money back,” she recalled.

Now two years later, the vacant lot remains unsold and local realtors estimate that its value has decreased significantly from the original $75,000 asking price, Bingham said. (The annual town report lists the property’s value at $68,070.)

Meanwhile, proponents of the rail trail and others interested in local conservation and recreation have come to town leaders with proposals about a variety of ideas including the development a dog park, a new car-top/carry-in boat launch, and developing space for bocce and croquet players.

“So the question is, do we renew the listing, given the fact that it’s likely to go for a much lower price,” Bingham asked rhetorically. “Or, maybe it’s of more value to the town down the road for potential recreational uses and possibly furthering the economy.”

The Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail is a nonprofit organization based in Warner that hopes to develop a 34-mile walkway/bikeway along the old Concord-Claremont Railroad line. The user-friendly project would connect the towns of Newbury (at the southern tip of Sunapee), Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Hopkinton/Contoocook to the state capital. Supporters say that facilities like the rail trail can improve both a community’s overall health and its economic vitality.

Tim Blagden, president of the organization’s board, said that one of the project’s biggest challenges is acquiring the needed land and/or property easements to construct the trail. Unlike what’s occurred in other areas of New Hampshire, the state never purchased the Concord-Claremont railroad bed so Blagden and his supporters must move through the proposed trail section by section, talking to private landowners, state agencies and local municipalities, to secure easements or purchase property. (About half of the proposed new trail project would include already developed trails like Warner’s rail trail, and the recently approved three-quarters trail between the Appleseed Restaurant and the Pizza Chef plaza in Bradford.)

The town-owned lot is an important link for completing the local trail, Blagden said, because it would eventually help connect the old rail bed from one side of Interstate 89 to the other.

“The railroad grade is on the front of that lot, on the street side – close to Route 103,” he explained. “It’s maybe 40-to-50 feet off the street pavement… We usually ask for a 30-foot wide path and the trail is about 14-feet wide. The extra space is for maybe a bench or a sign or just to trim the brush back… That would cover about 21,450 square feet. That’s just under half-an-acre, or just under 16-percent of the total lot space.”

The selectboard considered the question at its July 3 meeting, Edelmann reported.

“What the selectmen don’t know is how the citizens of Warner feel about the rail trail,” she said. “And what I want to know as chairman is, how much support does the town want the board of selectmen to give to the rail trail project.”

The answer to that will impact what the town does with the Main Street land, she noted. “Do we drop the price significantly for the rail trail people to buy it? Or do we give it to them? Or, do we hold to it and give them an easement?”

The level of support could also help town leaders understand issues related to development in the areas around I-89’s exit 9, and in the Waterloo section of town, Edelmann explained.

On July 3, the selectmen decided to not relist the East Main Street land for the moment and to bring the issue to the annual town meeting in March.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on July 24, 2018.

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Bradford is taking community approach to future economic development

Willie, West & McGinty, one of the most popular acts on vaudeville, arose from local performers who appeared on the second-floor stage at the old town hall in Bradford in the early 20th century. “The act was a carefully calibrated and timed ‘ballet’ of inept workers creating a shambles instead of the building they were supposed to construct,” according to one commentator. Selectman Jim Bibbo says the local stage helped develop scores of similarly talented people.

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – On the heels of the planning board’s recent “visioning” session that allowed residents to talk about how they’d like to see the town develop, Jim Bibbo, the chairman of the selectboard, is starting a Bradford economic development group.

Bibbo says he’s been interested in economic development on the state and regional levels for many years, and now wants to help the town develop its own ideas.

“We are just beginning to pull together to do this,” said Karen Hambleton, the town administrator. “We decided to call it ‘community development’ because we want to build community within the community (of the group).”

The new, unofficial committee, which has only met twice, currently numbers about 10 people, Bibbo said. The group is working with Jared Reynolds, a Merrimack County community and economic development specialist who works for the UNH’s Coop Extension.

“When it was a theater there were people who went on in their (theatrical) careers from Bradford,” Bibbo noted. “There was Willie, West & McGinty. They were a trio, like the Three Stooges… And there’s Will Cressy who was on vaudeville and wrote hundreds of skits for other performers.’

Selectman Jim Bibbo

Community planners have long advocated for sound economic development plans. A good one can help stabilize the town’s tax base while insuring growth that maintains the community character that residents enjoy.

“The town needs to grow,” Bibbo explained. “Our tax bases isn’t that large. There’s not a lot of business as compared to other towns.”

At the planning board’s visioning meeting last month, residents talked about their hopes for a business revival in the village with more tourism-related enterprises and other enterprises. Growing the town while maintain its rural and historic character was also discussed.

The meeting was aimed at providing input as the planning board begins updating the town’s Master Plan. The new unofficial community development group will also work with the town’s previous official functions, Bibbo said. “The committee is going to have to stay within the Master Plan,” he explained.

The selectman said he has no specific goals for the group, and that he wants it to chart its own course in the coming months. The members will begin working on a vision statement and goals as they move through the committee’s initial growth stages.

Bibbo expressed optimism about plans to continue developing the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail through Bradford, and would like to see repairs on some of the sidewalks on West Main Street.

In addition, he’s been a proponent for completing the improvements to the Old Town Hall, and confessed to being disappointed that town voters didn’t support the project moving forward at the annual March meeting. The historic structure can add to economic revival, particularly if the second floor theater is revived. “That would benefit not just Bradford but also surrounding communities,” he said.

“When it was a theater there were people from Bradford who went on in their (theatrical) careers from Bradford,” Bibbo noted. “There was Willie, West & McGinty, they were vaudeville stars. They were a trio, like the Three Stooges… And there’s Will Cressy who was on vaudeville and wrote hundreds of skits for other performers.”

Cressy has another connection to Bradford’s possible economic future, the selectman said. “He owned all the land in back of East Main Street where the community center is now,” he explained. “That’s one of the projects we’ve put in to the state, to put a road back there that would run parallel to Route 103.”

Right now that property is part of a Brownfield Project, which means it has pollution problems that need to be resolved before any construction project can be begin, Bibbo said.

Anyone interested in joining the new committee is encouraged to contact Bibbo or Hambleton, the town administrator, at (603) 938-5900 or administrator@bradfordnh.org

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 17, 2018.

 

Plans to abandon Wild Goose move ahead

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – State officials met with members of the public last week to hear their concerns about the recommendations of the Lake Sunapee Boat Access Development Commission announced earlier this year.

The commission’s final report suggests that the state abandon its long-delayed plan to create a state-owned and operated deep-water lake access facility at the former Wild Goose campground in Newbury, and look for alternative sites. It also recommends that parking at the Lake Sunapee State Beach be increased to allow for more use of the smaller, shallower launch there.

‘The issue is not public access. The issue is (the need for) increased parking.’

– June Fichter of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association

Last week’s hearing, held in Department of Revenue Administration building on Pleasant Street, was held before the Council on Resources and Development (CORD, part of the planning division of the state’s Office of Strategic Initiatives). CORD consists of 12 department heads who are charged with facilitating interagency communications and cooperation relating to environmental, natural resources and growth management issues. The commission’s report involves the fish and game department, which currently has jurisdiction over Wild Goose land, as well as the state’s division of parks that would take over the property and develop it for other recreational purposes.

About 20 people spoke to the council, and the arguments were familiar.

Opponents of the commission’s recommendations said that Wild Goose is the only viable site for a deep-water boat launch on the lake. Supporters point to serious traffic problems that would develop in Newbury.

June Fichter, the executive director of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association, said her organization supports the commission’s recommendations because it puts the focus in the right place. “The issue is not public access,” she said, adding that boat traffic on Sunapee has increased about 270-percent over the last 16 years. “The issue is (the need for) increased parking.”

Gene Porter, a member of the state’s public water access advisory board and a representative of the state motorized boating population, said the commission’s report was “weakly reasoned.”

“These boaters, fishermen and water skiers want first-class access to Sunapee just as they have on Winnipesaukee and Squam,” he said.

CORD will hold its next meeting on September 13 when it will begins considering whether or not to accept the access commission’s recommendations.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 17, 2018.

 

 

 

Water use limited in Warner village area

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The state’s current drought conditions have led the Warner Village Water District to institute a temporary ban on outdoor water usage, including watering lawns and washing cars.

On June 25, the water commissioners voted to take the precautionary measure, asking customers to restrict their outdoor usage during daytime hours until further notice (likely at the end of summer).

We have to start trucking in water, it’s a really tough thing. We use an average of 60,000 to 70,000 gallons a day… A truck carries about 6,000 gallons a load so if we need to bring in 10 to 15 loads a day, that’s $800,000 or more pretty quick.’

Ray Martin, admin. asst. for WVWD

“July and August are typically our worst months,” said Ray Martin, administrative assistant for the district.

The commission imposed a $25 fine for first-time violations and $50 for each subsequent violation but, based on past occurrences, Martin doesn’t foresee any enforcement problems. “Compliance will be very high, probably 99-percent,” he predicted.

The district, which is a separate legal municipality from the town, supplies water and sewer services to approximately 185 residences and 30 commercial enterprises. Its service area covers a radius of about a one-half to one-mile from the village center. The three-person elected commission manages is the district.

The commission’s recent decision to restrict water use is based on two factors, according to the website notice.

One is the state’s prolonged drought conditions, which have impacted the productivity of the district’s two wells that draw on the Warner River aquifer. (Officially, central New Hampshire is listed as being under moderate drought conditions.)

The second is that the district’s older well is experiencing a drop in productivity, Martin explained.

The commissioners’ statement says the board is looking at long-term solutions to the problems, including siting a new back-up well and installing more sophisticated well management controls, but the current budget can’t fund such improvements.

Martin said the new restrictions should allow the district to manage this summer, but the commission is prepared if the drought worsens. “Right now, if we have to start trucking in water, it’s a really tough thing,” he explained. “We use an average of 60,000 to 70,000 gallons a day so just add that up. A truck carries about 6,000 gallons a load so if we need to bring in 10 to 15 loads a day, that’s $800,00 or more pretty quick… Years ago, we had to truck in water.”

At around the same time that the Warner commissioners announced their decision, the Portsmouth Water Division asked its city’s residents to voluntarily cut back on their outdoor water use.

Martin said he’s aware of at least one other community that has already or is considering similar measures.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 10.

NOTE: Shortly after this story was published, the New London-Springfield Water System Precinct announced that, effective immediately, there is a mandatory water ban on all residential outside irrigation between the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 

Lake Sunapee access will be focus of hearing in Concord this week

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – The NH Office of Strategic Initiatives’ (OSI) Council on Resources and Development (CORD; part of OSI’s energy planning division) is scheduled to hold a public hearing this Thursday addressing the long-debated issue of public access to Lake Sunapee.

The CORD agenda lists “public comment” as its first item.

The council will be discussing the recent report of the Lake Sunapee Public Boat Access Development Commission issued in the spring. The 15-member commission, which was appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu, recommended that the state abandon its original plans to build a mandated deep-water state-owned and managed public boat launch at the former Wild Goose campground area in Newbury. The report suggests that the 3-acre property be considered for other recreational uses, but made no specific recommendation about an alternative site for the boat launch.

CORD, which consists of representatives from 12 state agencies, was formed to provide a forum for interagency cooperation regarding environmental, natural resources and growth management issues and policies. The group is required to adhere to the state’s Smart Growth Policy, outlined in the 2016 Smart Growth Report.

Thursday’s hearing will be the first since the commission wrapped up its work several months ago. The CORD agenda lists “public comment” as its first item; anyone wishing to present written comment must notify the OSI by emailing Michael A. Klass (michael.klass@osi.nh.gov) OSI’s principal planner, on or before Wednesday, July 11, at 4:30 p.m.

Klass, who joined the state agency in November, has worked as an private attorney dealing with land use, real estate development, property disputes and related litigation.

The meeting will take place in the NH Department of Revenue Administration’s training room at 109 Pleasant Street (Medical & Surgical Building) in Concord, Thursday at 1 p.m. The building is handicap accessible and, for security reasons, everyone attending must sign in and show a valid photo I.D. Driving directions are available at https://www.revenue.nh.gov/contact-us/documents/campus-map.pdf

More information about the hearing is available at https://www.nh.gov/osi/planning/programs/cord/index.htm, and questions can be addressed to Klass at 271-6651 or Micheel.klass@ois.nh.gov

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 10, 2018.

 

Recreational rail trail could link Kearsarge-Sunapee towns to Concord

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – If Tim Blagden has his way, you may someday be able to walk or bike with your family from Concord to Newbury Harbor on a scenic trail that passes through some of the best towns in the state.

Blagden is the president of the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail board, a nonprofit group that wants to create a 34-mile walkway/bikeway along the old Concord-Claremont Railroad line. The user-friendly facility would connect the towns of Newbury (the southern tip of Lake Sunapee), Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Hopkinton/Contoocook to the Capital City. It will be “spectacular,” Blagden says.

‘The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor.’

Tim Blagden, Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail

 

The Pumpkin Hill Road resident first got interested in public biking/walking spaces about five years ago. “Back in 2013 my kids wanted to go for a bike ride so I want looking for a rail trail online,” he recalled. “I found the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire and noticed that they were looking for an executive director. So I found a trail and ended up sending in my resume.”

Blagden had experience in sales and business development, and he ended up getting the job. Soon he was connecting with scores of outdoor enthusiasts, from ardent bicyclists and public health officials, to community planners and rail trail buffs. He was quickly convinced of both the health-related and economic benefits of providing alternatives to automobile traffic.

Then in 2014, Blagden noticed that the alliance and two rail trail groups that it supported might, in effect, end wind up competing with each other for the same grant money. So, for the sake of all of three organizations, he decided to separate the two trail programs from the alliance and take on the job of moving local project forward.

It’s a challenging endeavor, he admitted.

“The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor,” he said.

The problem is that, unlike other rail lines in New Hampshire, the state government doesn’t own the former railroad company property. About half of the proposed 34-mile trek is already operating as trails, including the Stevens trail in Contoocook, the town-owned Tilley Wheeler Trail in Bradford, and the Warner and Newbury rail trails.

But they’re all separated from one another in “little pieces, here and there,” Blagden noted.

In addition, there are 95 private and 47 public (e.g., town governments and state agencies) landowners that control the rest of the former railroad property. That means the Friends have to get easements from each one in order to build and maintain each section of the proposed trail.

“It looks impossible,” Blagden admitted, “but if you give people the opportunity to say yes, people are taking advantage of that opportunity. You tell them, we will turn this into a beautiful rail trail. That we’ll provide the service, we’ll raise the money for maintaining the trail, we’ll take care of it and you don’t have to deal with it. And you get a beautiful trail. And people are saying, yeah, that’s cool.”

It helps that property that connects with a public trail can increase in value by as much as $9,000, the Friends president noted.

In addition, a state study estimates that while completing the entire trail would cost about $4 million, it would have a true economic impact from out of state visitors of approximately $900,000 annually.

But Bladgen’s organization is moving slowly and respectfully, simply trying to raise awareness about the trail proposal.

“We are at the tipping point,” he said. “So we want to put something down that’s visible but not too costly in as many communities as possible, and let people experience it.”

This year, the group is adding two miles of trail linking Hopkinton to the Davisville State Forest in Warner. (A shorter Warner trail between Depot St. and Joppa Rd. was completed last fall.) In addition, a recreational trail program grant has been approved to put a new three-quarters mile trail linking the famous Appleseed Restaurant to the Pizza Chef in Bradford.

For more information about the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail, see concordlakesunapeerailtrail.com

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 3, 2018.

Local town administrators looking for ways to cut costs, expand services

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – Two years ago the town administrators from Bradford, Sutton and Warner got together to see if they could save their towns some money when the time came around to make their annual winter fuel purchases.

“Instead of Bradford buying 5,000 gallons, Sutton buying something like its 5,000 gallons and Warner buying its 10,000 or whatever, we did a joint fuel bid,” recalled Karen Hambleton, Bradford’s town administrator. “And we got a great rate.”

The administrative trio was so encouraged by the results they’re now meeting on a regular basis, exploring ways their towns can work together for their mutual benefit.

“For the past year the towns of Sutton, Bradford and Warner have had conversations about consolidating certain services, either for expanding services or because it would be more cost effective,” explained Elly Phillips, Sutton’s town administrator.

“I think there’s a lot of cool opportunities to save money here and there, backing each other up, helping each other out,” agreed Hambleton.

For instance the regular joint administrators’ meeting has addressed the idea of buying or renting equipment together in the future, according to Jim Bingham, Warner’s administrator.

“Take roadside mowing. Each town needs to do it for a few weeks in the summer and we always rent a tractor,” he said. “But when you look at what the towns are spending, we could own one in six years for what we’re paying for a single year’s rental.”

If issues related to storage, maintenance costs, insurance etc. could be agreed to, the towns might consider making a joint tractor-mower purchase, he suggested.

The towns could even look at shared professional services, the administrators noted.

“I’m talking about things like code enforcement, building inspections, planning or even town administrators – which I hate to say,” Phillips said. “The times are changing, and these little towns need professionals.”

The novel approach could attract more qualified professionals than what a single small community can afford to pay, according to Bingham.

To some extent the shared services idea has already been done.

When Sutton voters elected a new town clerk in March, Bradford helped out by allowing residents in their neighboring community to register their vehicles in Bradford for a few weeks, while the new employee received her necessary training, Hambleton said.

Of course the town administrators can’t make any cooperative agreements by themselves.

Hambleton, Bingham and Phillips have to win the approval and support of their respective elected three-member select boards before any deals can move forward.

But the trio says the possible savings and service improvements are worth the time and effort to investigate.

“It’s just a matter of changing the way we think,” Hambleton said. “It’s just appropriate to have our towns working together.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.

 

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